01/12/2017 05:51 EST | Updated 01/12/2017 08:38 EST

Let's Make 2017 The Year Of The Forest On Vancouver Island

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Aerial view of green treetops

The new year has begun, and it is going to be an important one for B.C.

On Vancouver Island, there's hunger for change on an issue that brings local environmentalists back to their roots.


At the Wilderness Committee, we began last year battling in court against Teal Jones, the logging company that is destroying rare old-growth rainforest in the Walbran Valley.

The Walbran is a flashpoint in the fight over old-growth on Vancouver Island, where only ten per cent of the original low-elevation forest remains. This debate isn't new, but it did gain unprecedented momentum last year.

Motions opposing old-growth logging were passed by the Union of BC Municipalities, and the BC Chamber of Commerce. This followed a statement from the Ahousaht Nation, which announced a moratorium on old-growth logging in its territory in the heart of Clayoquot Sound in fall 2015.

Will 2017 finally be the year that we move away old-growth logging? That's up to you.

Forest policy in B.C. is set by the provincial government, and there's an election in May. Neither the government nor the Official Opposition has called for a ban on old-growth logging. This puts them offside with citizens, businesses and municipal governments. The excuse they make is that they can't oppose any logging practice because we need to protect forestry jobs.

Yet most people calling for an end to old-growth logging are also advocating for a healthier wood products industry with more sustainable jobs. Many -- like me -- grew up in rural communities where the forest industry is important, or has been in the past.

And when we talk about forestry jobs, we have to talk about raw log exports.

I spent the spring and summer meeting and marching with forest industry workers advocating for sustainable second-growth forestry, and a ban on raw log exports.

When it comes to creating jobs, BC has the most inefficient forest industry in the country. According to Statistics Canada data, every province generates more jobs and more dollars per tree cut than we do. The main thing we do differently is export raw logs on a massive scale.

How many?

The unprocessed logs we export in one year could fill logging trucks that would stretch in an unbroken line from Vancouver to Thunder Bay, Ontario. That's enough timber to build houses for the entire population of Abbotsford.

We must end old-growth logging, and we must protect the people who work in forestry. We need to make the industry more efficient and save existing jobs, and we can do that by eliminating raw log exports and focusing on maximizing local production.

Industry and government will say this isn't feasible, but their arguments are based on the laws of economics, which we can change.

The survival of old-growth forest is based on the laws of nature, which we can't.

As we shift away from old-growth logging and raw log exports, we must also ensure the rights and respect the authority of the First Nations who have stewarded these forests since time immemorial. Every tree on Vancouver Island belongs to the Indigenous nation on whose territory it grows.

Vancouver Island's forests once provided for an abundance of fish and wildlife that we can only dream of today. We would all be better off if Indigenous peoples regained forest management within their homelands. This has already begun in places like Clayoquot Sound and needs to spread across the Island.

Let's make sure that this year's changes are positive. Let's work together to achieve justice: for ecosystems but also for the people who make their livings from the resources within them.

If we prioritize each other and our surroundings over the profits of a handful of corporations, we can do this. We can improve and stabilize second-growth forestry while protecting remaining old-growth. There is the knowledge and the widespread community desire to do this.

What's missing is the political will, and that's where you come in.

In the lead up to the election, demand that your candidates take a stand on banning old-growth logging. Demand they stand with citizens and with science instead of with the logging corporations that donate to them. Show up at events and question them on this, as often as you can.

We're not the first ones to fight for this. The battle over forestry on Vancouver Island has been going on for a long time. Let's make 2017 the year we win.

I'll see you on the streets and I'll see you in the woods.

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